During the summer of 2015, Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s CEO, announced that the global professional services company would reimagine its performance management system. The company found that after decades of serving its purpose, the system had become demotivating. Accenture’s global workforce had changed. Their people (and your people) are not motivated by being a number on a performance rating scale. Rather, today’s workforce is increasingly looking for meaning, human connectedness, true happiness and a desire to contribute positively to the world. Nanterme and his leadership team realized Accenture needed a better way to lead for these foundational human desires and better engage their 425,000-plus employees – to speak to their intrinsic motivation.
Accenture is no outlier. A global movement is taking place in the C-suites of thousands of innovative organizations like Marriott, Starbucks and LinkedIn. The question the leaders of these organizations ask themselves is, “How can we create more human leadership and people-centered cultures where employees and leaders are more fulfilled and more fully engaged?”
As human beings, we are all driven by basic needs for meaning, happiness, human connectedness and a desire to contribute positively to society. That’s true whether we’re at home, out in the world or at work. But it’s one thing to realize this fact and another to act on it. Speaking to our people’s intrinsic motivation calls for leaders and organizations that cater to these desires. It’s something that forward-thinking organizations and leaders are increasingly realizing and addressing. As Javier Pladevall, CEO of Audi Volkswagen, Spain, reflected when we spoke with him, “Leadership today is about un-learning management and re-learning being human.”
How important is this message? Consider this: In a 2016 McKinsey & Company study of more than 52,000 managers, 86 percent rated themselves as inspiring and good role models, but this belief stands in stark contrast to how employees perceive their leaders. A 2016 Gallup engagement survey found that 82 percent of employees see their leaders as fundamentally uninspiring. The survey also found that only 13 percent of the global workforce is engaged, and 24 percent are actively disengaged.
This seeming lack of good leadership is not due to a lack of effort. According to a 2015 report from Bersin by Deloitte, organizations around the globe invest approximately $46 billion annually on leadership development programs. That’s a lot of money for seemingly little return. What’s going wrong?
We conducted a two-year research study to identify the strategies for great leadership in the 21st century. We interviewed 250 C-suite executives from companies including Microsoft, Google, McKinsey and Lego; assessed 35,000 leaders; and trawled through thousands of studies of leadership. From this work, we came to two clear findings.
1. Leadership Education Has it Backward.
Leadership pioneer Peter Drucker said, “You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.” Much leadership education starts with skills like strategy, vision and finance. But, from Drucker’s point of view, this approach starts at the end and misses the beginning. It’s like building a house by starting with the roof.
Our research found that leadership starts with yourself. More specifically, it starts in your mind. By understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively. By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively. And by understanding and leading others more effectively, you can understand and lead your organization more effectively.
By “more effectively,” we mean in a way that’s going to tap into your own and your people’s intrinsic motivations and sense of purpose. If you’re able to do that – and we have seen that with practice and persistence, anyone can – you’ll have a more engaged and productive workforce. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll be part of creating more happiness, stronger human connectedness, and better social cohesion within and beyond your organization.
2. Great Leaders Share Three Key Mental Qualities.
We found that three key mental qualities stand out in great leaders: mindfulness, selflessness and compassion.
Mindfulness provides leaders with a stellar focus on the task at hand and, therefore, improves productivity. Equally, it provides a strong ability to be truly present with people, clients and stakeholders. Presence in leadership creates better connectedness and loyalty and enables selflessness and compassion.
Selflessness is the opposite of ego-centeredness. Selfless leaders are more concerned with the interest and needs of their people, organization and society at large than with their own needs and desires. Selflessness increases engagement and creativity.
Compassionate leaders have the well-being and happiness of their people in mind and always look for way of improving them. Members of organizations with compassionate leaders know that they have their back, and, as a result, trust and cohesion thrives.
A growing body of research evidence is finding that these three qualities make for leadership that improves organizational performance and health and enables better social cohesion and trust on organizational level.